This is a stupendous record. I have long known Chung's wonderful bittersweet recording of the Stravinsky coupled on LP with her benchmark Walton recording but I had not heard her recordings of the Prokofiev concertos . As so often the case in recordings from the 1970s she is accompanied by Andre Previn and the LSO.
These performances are magical . She is well balanced with the orchestra in thrillingly vivid late analogue sound. The LSO play for all they are worth and Previn accompanies even more tellingly than on his very good recordings with Shaham.
It is the pinpoint accurate yet deeplyprofound playing of Chung that makes these , for me, the best performances of these concertos on record . Her playing is tender, ironic, witty and exquisite by turns. In fact often all four at once !
Oistrakh is the only other violinist who gets as close to the heart of the music and he is not so well accompanied or recorded .
Forty years on since this Korean phenomenon and virtuoso cut her first recordings with Andre Previn and the LSO, this coupling of Stravinsky (1973) both Prokofiev concerti (1977) still brims with the same freshness and spontaneity as it seemed to possess when first released. From the very special opening of the exquisite first concerto to the pathos and darker struggles of the second concerto it conveys a deep understanding of Prokofiev's idiom and sentiment.
The Stravinsky concerto was a great puzzle to me until I heard Kyung-Wha Chung bring it to life. For me the score always looked harsh strident and forbidding. But it is so much clearer and logical here, really very appealing and definitely under-rated, once one hears how it should sound.
The playing throughout is effortless, sublime, and absolutely ravishing, perfectly balanced, the recorded quality remains absolutely first rate, a credit to the recording engineers getting the best from the Kingsway Hall. This collaboration with Previn is extraordinary, showing just how synergistic these two musicians of very different backgrounds and musical experience could be. It is quite fair to say that this performance captures those ingredients which characterise Kyung-Wha Chung's live performances I have attended: vibrant, exciting, unforced, beautifully phrased and flowing, with impeccable accuracy, brilliant honey and silver tone, and an intimate passionate undercurrent never far from the surface.
I strongly recommend this as a core must-have.
Not to be too controversial I hope, but to compare Oistrakh's rather square ponderous note-perfect Prokofiev 1 with Kyung-Wha Chung's version is IMO a bit like comparing a Honda Accord with a Jag XK. nothing wrong with either but I know which I'd rather borrow for the weekend.
Nathan Milstein's 1966 recording with Giulini in Prokofiev#1 and Fruhbeck de Burgos in Prokofiev#2 is one of the most desirable older versions to hear on vinyl, and a very good CD remastering.
Gil Shaham's 1990s recording of the two Prokofiev concerti with Previn just a little too edgy recording sound for me, and to my ears very slightly lacking in orchestral focus and sound clarity, especially considering it's 20yr younger, but definitely the main modern recorded competition.
I would also mention the excellent SACD hybrid of Prokofiev# 1 with Julia Fischer (c/w Glazounov ) - another exquisite personal interpretation and one of my favourites.
I still return to Kyung-Wha Chung / Previn as my go-to Prokofiev every time though.